Denmark’s first Literature Act was adopted in the spring of 1996 (Law No 477 of 12 June 1996 om litteratur passed by the Parliament on 31 May 1996). The objective of the Act is to promote literature and access to literature in Denmark, while also promoting Danish literature abroad. The Act applies to Danish and translated literature, including prose, poetry, drama, children’s and young adult literature as well as cultural literature and non-fiction. The most recent Law on Literature was related to the foundation of the Danish Arts Council (Law om Kunstrådet, nr. 230, 2 April 2003 passed by the Parliament 20 March 2003). According to the Law, a special committee to manage subsidies to literature was established as a part of the Arts Council (see chapter 4.2.4).
The public lending right remuneration scheme, introduced originally in 1946, represents the most significant funding of Danish literature. Pursuant to objective criteria, remuneration is distributed to authors and translators of books published in the Danish language for use in public libraries.
In 2000, Parliament adopted new legislation on libraries: The Libraries Act of 17 May 2000 (Law No 340 of 17 May 2000 om biblioteksvirksomhed passed by the Parliament on 4 May 2000). The Act primarily aims at providing a better framework for public libraries to carry out their information and cultural policy duties in an information society. In addition to books and audio books, the Act now requires that public libraries provide musical recordings, Internet access and digital multimedia.
The Act on Libraries was amendedin 2002 (Law No 1053 of 17 December 2002 om ændring af lov om biblioteksafgift passed by the Parliament on 11 November 2002). The Act deals with a change in the margin of expenditure for the public lending rights fee.
More recent amendments include Law No 430 from 6 June 2005, Law No 431 from 6 June 2005, Law No 563 from 24 June 2005 and Law No 346 from 18 April 2007. The latest amendment, Law No 914 from 20 August 2008, responded to the implementation of the Local Government Reform, putting more responsibilities on the municipalities.
The implementation of the Local Government Reform has given rise to a general debate on its consequences, especially on the position and the role of public libraries in Danish society. The Reform has, in the period January 2007 – March 2010, resulted in about 240 libraries being closed down in the new larger municipalities.
One of the reasons that the discussion has been so intensified is due to the fact that public libraries have been the jewel of Danish cultural policy since the end of the absolutist monarchy in the 1849 constitution (see chapter 1.1). Public libraries have retained this status as pivotal for enlightenment and public cultural education after the Second World War. Public libraries were the largest item on the public culture budget from the creation of The Ministry of Culture in 1961 until 1984. After this time, public libraries fell under the responsibility of local government, financed via ordinary state block grants. Due to the local government reform, the financing and operation of the public libraries became the total responsibility of local government (see chapter 1.2.2).
The argument for closing down public libraries is due to deficits in the budgets of the new municipalities in 2007 and 2008, but there are other reasons. Since 1984, the number of visitors to libraries has declined, although they are still popular compared to the level in other European countries (see chapter 6.2). From 1983 to 2006, lending rates dropped from 87.9 million to 48.6 million books. In the same period, budgets for book acquisitions were cut by nearly 40%. On the other hand, book sales in stores have risen steadily.
But, while factors have come into play such as library usage and the development within digital communication, the serious debate has been caused by the implementation of the local government reform.
Coinciding with this discussion, a debate arose in 2008 regarding the role of literature in libraries. A number of public libraries across the country would like to offer digital services as a replacement for lending out books. This transformation of the role of libraries has been argued with reference to current developments within digital communication and digital culture.
At the end of 2007, the newly appointed head of Copenhagen’s main library caused a stir in the literary world, when she announced that fewer books would fill the shelves at the library. Instead the library would make an effort to communicate digitally.
On the other hand, authors, publishing editors, scientists and newspapers have demanded a re-focus on books. Libraries must withstand the prevalent discovery-economic tendencies. The Danish Library Agency (now the Danish Agency of Libraries and Media) proposed a readjustment of the Library Law to make it clearer for libraries to know exactly what a public library should offer. The debate blossomed when a new children’s library opened up in Aalborg early in 2008 under the heading “The nearly book-free library”.